Aerobic Training for Baseball

By Skyler Zarndt MS, ATC, CSCS

Not exactly an "athlete's" body we're talking about.
Not exactly an “athlete’s” body we’re talking about.
Bartolo Colon Height: 5'11" Weight: 285!
Bartolo Colon: Height: 5’11”. Weight: 285!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we talk about athletes that LOOK like athletes, baseball players aren’t usually in the conversation.  I will admit, some of the athletes I work with throughout the year look less like professional athletes and more like professional video game players.

But that’s okay.  These athletes have a highly specific skill set, that quite frankly, is hard to conceive.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that baseball has a stigma surrounding it that involves athletes who don’t necessarily look like athletes.  And attached to this stigma is that baseball players aren’t “in-shape.”

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t condition.  And if you’re a pitcher, you condition a lot.  We train both aerobically (longer duration, lower intensity) and anaerobically (shorter duration, higher intensity). But since baseball is such a long and demanding season, we have to be careful about the workload that we give to our guys.  Pitchers who are in better shape, generally speaking, stay healthier for longer.

So I would like to discuss how and why I personally like to incorporate AEROBIC training into my conditioning programs.

And to preface this discussion, I am not saying aerobic training should take precedence over training that is primarily anaerobic (we will discuss this tomorrow), I am simply stating my case for the HOWS and WHYS of aerobic training.  I feel it has gotten some negative attention in many strength and conditioning circles in the past 5 years, so I would like to hopefully shed a little light on the issue.

Also, if you haven’t read Joel Jamieson’s Ultimate MMA Conditioning, I highly suggest you pick up a copy.

So, first thing’s first – What’s the difference between the Aerobic and Anaerobic system anyways?  Well, we have 3 energy systems that we rely on to function.

  1. ATP-CP System (VERY High power output, low endurance capacity)
  2. Anaerobic System (High power output, low endurance capacity)
  3. Aerobic System (Low power output, High endurance capacity)

So with our focus on the Aerobic System, let’s look at some characteristics of this system:

  • “Aerobic” refers to the presence of Oxygen
  • Essentially Unlimited Energy Supply
  • Utilizes fats, carbohydrates, and sometimes proteins
  • Largest “work-capacity” of any of the energy systems

This energy system is dominant during exercise that last from 2-minutes up to hours at a time.  But unless you’re a distance runner, a rower, possibly a soccer player (midfield), or any sport that requires CONSTANT motion, why would we train this system?

We’ve all heard of training specificity, right?  We need to train the movements and actions that coincide with our sport.  This includes how much we move and run.  And anyone who has been to a baseball game knows that there usually isn’t a lot going on at any one time.

So why does a baseball player need to train aerobically at all?  And not just baseball.  This could apply to football, hockey, whatever.  But staying baseball specific, let’s look at some examples of what a player actually does.  When a baseball player sprints to first base, he doesn’t use too much of the aerobic system.  When a pitcher goes through his windup and pitches the ball, he isn’t using much at all of the aerobic system, either.

So why do we train aerobically?  The reason we train the aerobic system is because of its ability to help us RECOVER from our bouts of more intense, anaerobic training.  Baseball is just that.  It’s intense bouts of exercise (swinging, sprinting, pitching) followed by longer periods of inactivity.

So we can obviously train mostly anaerobically (think High Intensity Interval Training), or we can throw in some aerobic, “cardiac output” training as well.  If we always train at max or near-max effort, we are heavily taxing our Central Nervous System, as well as our muscles, joints, etc.  This is where lower intensity, aerobic training can come into play.  Not only will it give our body a “break,” but it will also provide benefits such as:

  1. Improved Recovery
  2. Lower Resting Heart Rate
  3. Decreased Sympathetic Tone
  4. Greater Left Ventricle Efficiency

All of these benefits are what help someone be in better “shape.”  Now I know I discussed how not all baseball players are in the best “shape,” but training aerobically can certain help alleviate this issue.

But the more important issue here, and with any professional athlete for that matter, is not the kind of shape it LOOKS like you’re in, but what kind of performance you achieve, regardless of what you look like with your shirt off.

Since baseball is such long season, with games nearly every day, the workload that we place on our players needs to be monitored closely.  They still need to condition, but they also need to perform.  Pitchers, for example, will condition every day, but that conditioning schedule is based entirely around when they last threw, how many pitches they threw, and how many days off they get.  Position players have a little more rigid schedule, but they still carry roughly the same workload throughout the day.

So working AEROBIC training into these busy schedules can be tough.  However, I feel it is necessary for RECOVERY and LONGEVITY.

In my experience, a 20-30 minute bike ride or elliptical session at 55-70% Heart Rate Max (HRmax), twice a week in season, not only IMPROVES RECOVERY, but also helps athletes feel less sore, sleep better, and feel better in general.

And if we can get an athlete to recover better, then that means we can train harder, and hopefully reach even better conditioning levels.  And that is the goal, after all.

If you’d like another solid resource on training aerobically and it’s benefits, check out Sean Light’s post on the issue @

SLStrength.com

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